When Someone You Love has an Addiction

When Someone You Love Has an Addiction

The fallout from an addiction, for addicts and the people who love them, is devastating – the manipulations, the guilt, the destruction of relationships and the breakage of people. When addicts know they are loved by someone who is invested in them, they immediately have fuel for their addiction. Your love and your need to bring them safely through their addiction might see you giving money you can’t afford, saying yes when that yes will destroy you, lying to protect them, and having your body turn cold with fear from the midnight ring of the phone. You dread seeing them and you need to see them, all at once. 

You might stop liking them, but you don’t stop loving them. If you’re waiting for the addict to stop the insanity – the guilt trips, the lying, the manipulation – it’s not going to happen. If you can’t say no to the manipulations of their addiction in your unaddicted state, know that they won’t say no from their addicted one. Not because they won’t, but because they can’t. 

If you love an addict, it will be a long and excruciating road before you realise that there is absolutely nothing you can do. It will come when you’re exhausted, heartbroken, and when you feel the pain of their self-destruction pressing relentlessly and permanently against you. The relationships and the world around you will start to break, and you’ll cut yourself on the jagged pieces.  That’s when you’ll know, from the deepest and purest part of you, that you just can’t live like this any more.  

I’ve worked with plenty of addicts, but the words in this post come from loving one. I have someone in my life who has been addicted to various substances. It’s been heartbreaking to watch. It’s been even more heartbreaking to watch the effect on the people I love who are closer to him than I am.

I would be lying if I said that my compassion has been undying. It hasn’t. It’s been exhausted and stripped back to bare. I feel regularly as though I have nothing left to give him. What I’ve learned, after many years, is that there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to change him. With all of our combined wisdom, strength, love and unfailing will to make things better for him, there is nothing we can do. 

I realised a while ago that I couldn’t ride in the passenger seat with someone at the wheel who was on such a relentless path to self-destruction. It’s taken many years, a lot of sadness, and a lot of collateral damage to people, relationships and lives outside of his.

What I do know is that when he is ready to change direction, I’ll be there, with love, compassion and a fierce commitment to stand beside him in whatever way he needs to support his recovery. He will have an army of people behind him and beside him when he makes the decision, but until then, I and others who love him are powerless. I know that.

Nobody intends for a behaviour to become an addiction, and if you are someone who loves an addict – whether it’s a parent, child, partner, friend, sibling – the guilt, the shame and the helplessness can be overwhelming. 

Addiction is not a disease of character, personality, spirit or circumstance. It can happen to anyone. It’s a human condition with human consequences, and being that we’re all human, we’re all vulnerable. Addicts can come from any life and from any family. It’s likely that in our lifetime, if we don’t love someone with an addiction, we’ll know someone who does, so this is an important conversation to have, for all of us. 

The problem with loving an addict is that sometimes the things that will help them are the things that would seem hurtful, cold and cruel if they were done in response to non-addicts. Often, the best ways to respond to an addict have the breathtaking capacity to drown those who love them with guilt, grief, self-doubt and of course, resistance.

Loving an addict in any capacity can be one of the loneliest places in the world. It’s easy to feel judged for withdrawing support for the addict, but eventually, this becomes the only possible response. Unless someone has been in battle armour beside you, fighting the fight, being brought to their knees, with their heart-broken and their will tested, it’s not for them to judge. 

The more we can talk about openly about addiction, the more we can lift the shame, guilt, grief and unyielding self-doubt that often stands in the way of being able to respond to an addict in a way that supports their healing, rather than their addiction. It’s by talking that we give each other permission to feel what we feel, love who we love, and be who we are, with the vulnerabilities, frayed edges, courage and wisdom that are all a part of being human.

When Someone You Love is an Addict.

  1. You’re dealing with someone different now. 

    When an addiction takes hold, the person you love disappears, at least until the addiction loosens its grip. The person you love is still in there somewhere, but that’s not who you’re dealing with. The person you remember may have been warm, funny, generous, wise, strong – so many wonderful things – but addiction changes people. It takes a while to adjust to this reality and it’s very normal to respond to the addicted person as though he or she is the person you remember. This is what makes it so easy to fall for the manipulations, the lies and the betrayal – over and over. You’re responding to the person you remember – but this is not that person. The sooner you’re able to accept this, the sooner you can start working for the person you love and remember, which will mean doing what sometimes feels cruel, and always heartbreaking, so the addiction is starved of the power to keep that person away. The person you love is in there – support that person, not the addict in front of you. The sooner you’re able to stop falling for the manipulations, lies, shame and guilt that feeds their addiction, the more likely it will be that the person you remember will be able to find the way back to you.

  2. Don’t expect them to be on your logic.

    When an addiction takes hold, the person’s reality becomes distorted by that addiction. Understand that you can’t reason with them or talk them into seeing things the way you do. For them, their lies don’t feel like lies. Their betrayal doesn’t feel like betrayal. Their self-destruction doesn’t always feel like self-destruction. It feels like survival. Change will come when there is absolutely no other option but to change, not when you’re able to find the switch by giving them enough information or logic.

  3. When you’re protecting them from their own pain, you’re standing in the way of their reason to stop.

    Addicts will do anything to feed their addiction because when the addiction isn’t there, the emotional pain that fills the space is greater. People will only change when what they are doing causes them enough pain, that changing is a better option than staying the same. That’s not just for addicts, that’s for all of us. We often avoid change – relationships, jobs, habits – until we’ve felt enough discomfort with the old situation, to open up to a different option.

    Change happens when the force for change is greater than the force to stay the same. Until the pain of the addiction outweighs the emotional pain that drives the addiction, there will be no change. 

    When you do something that makes their addictive behaviour easier, or protects them from the pain of their addiction – perhaps by loaning them money, lying for them, driving them around – you’re stopping them from reaching the point where they feel enough pain that letting go of the addiction is a better option. Don’t minimise the addiction, ignore it, make excuses for it or cover it up. Love them, but don’t stand in the way of their healing by protecting them from the pain of their addiction. 

  4. There’s a different way to love an addict.

    When you love them the way you loved them before the addiction, you can end up supporting the addiction, not the person. Strong boundaries are important for both of you. The boundaries you once had might find you innocently doing things that make it easier for the addiction to continue. It’s okay to say no to things you might have once agreed to – in fact, it’s vital – and is often one of the most loving things you can do. If it’s difficult, have an anchor – a phrase or an image to remind you of why your ‘no’ is so important. If you feel as though saying no puts you in danger, the addiction has firmly embedded itself into the life of the person you love. In these circumstances, be open to the possibility that you may need professional support to help you to stay safe, perhaps by stopping contact. Keeping a distance between you both is no reflection on how much love and commitment you feel to the person, and all about keeping you both safe.

  5. Your boundaries – they’re important for both of you.

    If you love an addict, your boundaries will often have to be stronger and higher than they are with other people in your life. It’s easy to feel shame and guilt around this, but know that your boundaries are important because they’ll be working hard for both of you. Setting boundaries will help you to see things more clearly from all angles because you won’t be as blinded by the mess or as willing to see things through the addict’s eyes – a view that often involves entitlement, hopelessness, and believing in the validity of his or her manipulative behaviour. Set your boundaries lovingly and as often as you need to. Be clear about the consequences of violating the boundaries and make sure you follow through, otherwise it’s confusing for the addict and unfair for everyone. Pretending that your boundaries aren’t important will see the addict’s behaviour get worse as your boundaries get thinner. In the end this will only hurt both of you.

  6. You can’t fix them, and it’s important for everyone that you stop trying.

    The addict and what they do are completely beyond your control. They always will be. An addiction is all-consuming and it distorts reality. Know the difference between what you can change (you, the way you think, the things you do) and what you can’t change (anyone else). There will be a strength that comes from this, but believing this will take time, and that’s okay. If you love someone who has an addiction, know that their stopping isn’t just a matter of wanting to. Let go of needing to fix them or change them and release them with love, for your sake and for theirs.

  7. See the reality.

    When fear becomes overwhelming, denial is a really normal way to protect yourself from a painful reality. It’s easier to pretend that everything is okay, but this will only allow the addictive behaviour to bury itself in deeper. Take notice if you are being asked to provide money, emotional resources, time, babysitting – anything more than feels comfortable. Take notice also of the  feeling, however faint, that something isn’t right. Feelings are powerful, and will generally try to alert us when something isn’t right, long before our minds are willing to listen. 

  8. Don’t do things that keep their addiction alive.

    When you love an addict all sorts of boundaries and conventions get blurred. Know the difference between helping and enabling. Helping takes into account the long-term effects, benefits and consequences. Enabling is about providing immediate relief, and overlooks the long-term damage that might come with that short-term relief. Providing money, accommodation, dropping healthy boundaries to accommodate the addict – these are all completely understandable when it comes to looking after someone you love, but with someone who has an addiction, it’s helping to keep the addiction alive. 

    Ordinarily, it’s normal to help out the people we love when they need it, but there’s a difference between helping and enabling. Helping supports the person. Enabling supports the addiction. 

    Be as honest as you can about the impact of your choices. This is so difficult – I know how difficult this is, but when you change what you do, the addict will also have to change what he or she does to accommodate those changes. This will most likely spin you into guilt, but let the addicted one know that when he or she decides to do things differently, you’ll be the first one there and your arms will be open, and that you love them as much as you ever have. You will likely hear that you’re not believed, but this is designed to refuel your enabling behaviour. Receive what they are saying, be saddened by it and feel guilty if you want to – but for their sake, don’t change your decision.

  9. Don’t buy into their view of themselves.

    Addicts will believe with every part of their being that they can’t exist without their addiction. Don’t buy into it. They can be whole without their addiction but they won’t believe it, so you’ll have to believe it enough for both of you. You might have to accept that they aren’t ready to move towards that yet, and that’s okay, but in the meantime don’t actively support their view of themselves as having no option but to surrender fully to their addiction. Every time you do something that supports their addiction, you’re communicating your lack of faith in their capacity to live without it. Let that be an anchor that keeps your boundaries strong. 

  10. When you stand your ground, things might get worse before they get better.

    The more you allow yourself to be manipulated, the more you will be manipulated. When you stand your ground and stop giving in to the manipulation, the maniplulation may get worse before it stops. When something that has always worked stops working, it’s human nature to do it more. Don’t give into to the lying, blaming or guilt-tripping. They may withdraw, rage, become deeply sad or develop pain or illness. They’ll stop when they realise your resolve, but you’ll need to be the first one to decide that what they’re doing won’t work any more.

  11. You and self-love. It’s a necessity. 

    In the same way that it’s the addict’s responsibility to identify their needs and meet them in safe and fulfilling ways, it’s also your responsibility to identify and meet your own. Otherwise you will be drained and damaged – emotionally, physically and spiritually, and that’s not good for anyone.

  12. What are you getting out of it?

    This is such a hard question, and will take an open, brave heart to explore it. Addicts use addictive behaviours to stop from feeling pain. Understandably, the people who love them often use enabling behaviours to also stop from feeling pain. Loving an addict is heartbreaking. Helping the person can be a way to ease your own pain and can feel like a way to extend love to someone you’re desperate to reach. It can also be a way to compensate for the bad feelings you might feel towards the person for the pain they cause you. This is all really normal, but it’s important to explore how you might be unwittingly contributing to the problem. Be honest, and be ready for difficult things to come up. Do it with a trusted person or a counsellor if you need the support. It might be one of the most important things you can do for the addict. Think about what you imagine will happen if you stop doing what you’re doing for them. Then think about what will happen if you don’t. What you’re doing might save the person in the short-term, but the more intense the addictive behaviour, the more destructive the ultimate consequences of that behaviour if it’s allowed to continue. You can’t stop it continuing, but you can stop contributing to it. Be willing to look at what you’re doing with an open heart, and be brave enough to challenge yourself on whatever you might be doing that’s keeping the addiction alive. The easier you make it for them to maintain their addiction, the easier it is for them to maintain their addiction. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.

  13. What changes do you need to make in your own life?

    Focusing on an addict is likely to mean that the focus on your own life has been turned down – a lot. Sometimes, focusing on the addict is a way to avoid the pain of dealing with other issues that have the capacity to hurt you. When you explore this, be kind to yourself, otherwise the temptation will be to continue to blunt the reality. Be brave, and be gentle and rebuild your sense of self, your boundaries and your life. You can’t expect the addict in your life to deal with their issues, heal, and make the immensely brave move towards building a healthy life if you are unwilling to do that for yourself.

  14. Don’t blame the addict.

    The addict might deserve a lot of the blame, but blame will keep you angry, hurt and powerless. Addiction is already heavily steeped in shame. It’s the fuel that started it and it’s the fuel that will keep it going. Be careful you’re not contributing to keeping the shame fire lit.

  15. Be patient.

    Go for progress, not perfection. There will be forward steps and plenty of backward ones too.  Don’t see a backward step as failure. It’s not. Recovery never happens in a neat forward line and backward steps are all part of the process.

  16. Sometimes the only choice is to let go.

    Sometimes all the love in the world isn’t enough. Loving someone with an addiction can tear at the seams of your soul. It can feel that painful. If you’ve never been through it, letting go of someone you love deeply, might seem unfathomable but if you’re nearing that point, you’ll know the desperation and the depth of raw pain that can drive such an impossible decision. If you need to let go, know that this is okay. Sometimes it’s the only option. Letting go of someone doesn’t mean you stop loving them – it never means that. You can still leave the way open if you want to. Even at their most desperate, most ruined, most pitiful point, let them know that you believe in them and that you’ll be there when they’re ready to do something different. This will leave the way open, but will put the responsibility for their healing in their hands, which is the only place for it to be.

And finally …

Let them know that you love them and have always loved them – whether they believe it or not. Saying it is as much for you as it is for them. 

450 Comments

In Pain

Thank you for this beautiful article with clear and decisive steps. I have been with a wonderful woman for near ten years. She had normal SAHM issues that I witnessed my mom had growing up so never held anything against her, I had been happy still working at the same job as around when we had met. She was supportive, I had no bad feelings, never dreaded to see her. After 8.5 years there was such a sudden and magnitudinal change in her attitude toward me, our time together, the kids, my family and her family I could not figure it out. When my desire to spend time with her was met with resistance, I did not know what to do with it. Since then I have an ever present sinking feeling in my stomach even when she eventually revealed a cocaine problem and a problem with stimulants and alcohol in general. She is also addicted to a series of games called Halo. The unfortunate byproduct of playing online games like this is that she talks to men when I am not around and could be saying anything. Back to the substance abuse, she wants to keep it as hidden as possible due to the shame and fear of it being leveraged by family to make her feel more shame. The only reason she told me, she said, is because I was suspecting her of infidelity. This statement alone made me feel bad because it is a problem either way. My first breakthrough in self improvement was reading a book entitled Codependent No More. This book and the article here both mention how wrong and guilt ridden it feels to focus on the self but it is imperative to prevent the addiction from taking more than one life. Dealing with this problem and the depression affected my work performance but I have reigned it in and it has taken effort I never thought I was capable of. I feel at times like I am partner-less and it is debilitating. Whenever I raise concern it is downplayed or responded to with derision, sarcasm, silence, mocking, general bad attitude. She is able to spend weeks without cocaine only because I am unable to afford it and as it is we are in precarious financial situations because I have no real form of monetary help. She cannot be trusted with cash, she had taken wads I set aside just because and I have to hide my wallet when at home. I love her so much and I know I can’t live like this but it’s so difficult to separate especially with kids involved. I never expected to be having the thoughts I am having and the feelings I am feeling I thought she was everything I needed. Addiction is much more than just a disease as mentioned and I always refer to it as our problem because she is not the only one going through the problem.

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Annoynous

I am reading your comment and I am in the same situation. I have been with my partner since we were 20 nearly 19years now! Married for 11. He has always been a good man, a devoted husband, hard working and a loving father. Yes our relationship wasn’t perfect but it was perfect to me. Since the first lock down he started spending more time away from home. Going out with his friends is something that never bothered me, infact his friends would always tell him how lucky he was that I never nagged him about it. I am not sure when his addiction starte d but I believe it’s being going on for a very long time. I didn’t see the signs because I have never used drugs or abused alcohol. I caught him with drugs at home and he reassured me it was a one off and I kind of left it at that. But weeks and months went by and I could see a huge shift in his behaviour. I would wake up in the middle of the night and he had ppl over, not his trusted friends though, some old (but not proper friends) and new friends he had made, or he would be out the whole night. All these friends are problematic and I knew were using him. My husband recently finished setting up a business that he had been working so hard far, for atleast 7 years. He finally had some revenue come in and started spending money. But with that also came boredom. His normal job didn’t satisfy him any more and his business was all setup so his mind was not being occupied. I noticed he started to sleep more and also started missing out more on family time. His parents also noticed a change in him, and his dad even asked me if he was doing drugs to which I denied (this was prior to me seeing him with drugs at home). Even after I saw the drugs at home and I knew in my gut something was not right I didn’t tell his parents. I protected him and I wanted to protect them. Until one day he used our daughter in a lie and that made me snap. I spoke to his parents again and there were really supportive to begin with. But as time went on and I kept talking to them it shifted. I am not sure if maybe I over stepped by calling then when I was in pain and when he continued to lie etc but I felt I had no one else to turn too. I feel like I have gone crazy, and the self doubt and guilt haunts me. I never thought I would be experiencing this and to this day I still am. I know my husband is in there, and I am hoping he comes to terms with his addiction before it’s too late. I am worried I will receive a phone call that he has either been arrested or worse has been hurt. We live in a small community and we are both very well known. I am constantly stopped by people asking if he is ok, they even stop my friends and family to ask. I have support but I feel that it doesn’t matter if I am supported or not because that doesn’t change the fact that my husband is know longer the man I married. I have days where I say am leaving him I can’t take it anymore but then I look at my beautiful children and I don’t want to put them through that pain. I have hope that he will get help and that things can improve and we can save our marriage.

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Jaz

I feel so alone in this. My husband is an addict. I didn’t realise the depths of it until after marriage..the lying, manipulation, stealing from me and cheating emotionally with other women.

Spending hours on end with his best mates (who are also addicts) fighting over his time spent with them not realising addiction was the main issue. He would go MIA for days no contact, me not sleeping worried sick! The promises were always there…always never came to fruition. It had to resort to violence against me that made my family aware.

He’s changed completely. Is always angry..just on his phone (which now I realise he’s using our child’s pics to send relatives to ask for money..and whether people send him money or not is what was dictating his mood…cz money meant he got to feed his addiction that day) he was almost always moody n I just became a slave to it!

When I speak about it to anyone… everyone’s response is “leave him”, “he’ll never change!” I don’t know what to believe! I love him n I’m so dependent on him to do stuff for me n us as a family and I sound pathetic saying all this which just fuels my now depression over what I’ve been through.

All his relatives have distanced themselves from me I have zero support. I can’t speak to my family cz I just don’t wanna hear it! it’s not support it’s just judgment. I kicked him out and I’ve just gotten lonelier and lonelier. No support no friends. My therapist I just feel (whether this is in my head or not) that I’m pathetic. Everyone says work on u…forget him sort urself out. So much easier said than done when u love someone so much.

There’s snippets of him being so loving etc makes me forget the bad then there’s days all I do is remember the bad and I’m just angry. Being older and with kids I don’t know who would want me now. All this turmoil has made me add so much weight I just hate who I am now. Addiction is so destructive and he just doesn’t see it only his own pain! I’m trying to be there for the kids but I’m suffering.

Everywhere I look I’m just seeing happy couples and I’m sad…they’re married to a normal man how lucky are they I think. But then there’s times I hear about husbands being horrible, cheating etc then I think ok well my hubby isn’t that bad maybe I should just ignore his addiction just like her everyone around him has done for years before he met me.

The only reason people know he’s an addict and we have problems is because I’m trying to get him to stop. Maybe if I just kept quiet they way women who’s husbands have mistresses just keep quiet n carry on..maybe things would be ok..I think some days. But I couldn’t carry on with so much betrayal when he would steal or cheat or go MIA.

He won’t go to treatment saying he can stop on his own. Words I’ve heard before n to me it’s just wanting to have his cake and eat it! Making me sit in hope not moving on while he carries on just figuring out new ways to hide it from me!

To all his friends I’m the bad person. I’m the ruiner who’s outing him! I don’t know what to do. My self esteem is gone, I feel so hopeless especially coming from previous divorce not too many years ago. If it wasn’t for my faith I would not be holding on to this life as everyone has made it so clear throughout my recent past that they could parent my kids better. I’m being judged as a bad mother for remaining married to him. So what use am I?

I just wish I knew what to do. I wish I could move to a different country n just start a fresh but I’m stuck. The shame of everyone knowing. I feel like my whole life has played out like a soap opera for geryobe to see cz everyone knows when he’s not home cz he goes to stay with his friends!

This is another failed marriage for me, me being alone no friends no life. All the odds are against me n he knows it that’s why he walks all over me with his addiction. He knows I have no one to even go out for a coffee with. Just me and these walls. I can’t force someone to befriend me. He’s out there living his best life. Leaving the home hasn’t opened his eyes to anything cz he’s got people giving him money. And he knows he’s left a broken woman behind. To lose this weight could take years or months for my to have confidence to be seen! Seems so far when ur surviving minute by minute. He says he loves me yet when we’re together he’s lying daily cz he’s using n hiding etc.

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Michelle

I am going through a similar situation. My baby daddy is an addict. Hd is in denial of this. However he spents a lot of time with his friend, who are addicts as well. We live together with our two year old son. What I hate the most about his addiction is that he does not listen to me. He forgets things I tell him to do. Ho we’ve if one of his friends asks him to do something he doesn’t forget. He won’t wake up in the morning unless one of his friends knock on the door. He is distant and believe me he was the total opposite when I met him.

I really don’t want to leave him alone because I am worried he might kill himself. It’s good to know that I am not alone. Thank you for sharing your stories and you have given me a lot to think about as well.

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Carey

I’ve been with an addict for 17 years. It got to the point where I had to separate for the health of myself and our children. That time was very painful for all of us and I was so angry, bitter and stressed as I tried to rebuild my life from the mess it had become. He went into treatment and was angry that I had left him when I had said I never would. That I should have supported him through anything, that he had a disease. There was no compassion or understanding of the pain the kids and I were trying to heal from. He had been through treatment before and I realized he was merely going through the motions to just pass the programs, that he felt he didn’t need to follow through with the meetings and care afterwards to stay sober. And he always relapsed. So I wasn’t supportive and I was doubtful of this stint in treatment, resentful of his anger. Slowly he made changes, and I saw the true sober man. We mended our relationship with each other and as a family. But now we’re back into his addiction. He’s justifying it because he has more pain and has had more trauma than anyone, he is functioning and doing what he should, because I abandoned him before when he needed me the most. He’s working, but he’s never truly present at home. We have no relationship really, he’s an an intimate relationship with his addiction. We moved so he could be closer to his sober support group but he won’t reach out. I’m back in that place of being scared, sad and angry. I love him, I worry for him. But I don’t want to live this way for the rest of my life. It’s like being the third wheel. It’s like waiting for the floor to drop out from under you again. I don’t want to lose the wonderful person that we had for a bit, but I don’t want to put myself through these painful feelings just waiting for him to appear.

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Addie

I understand and completely feel your pain. I have to believe there is a good life for you beyond what you are enduring presently. I spent 23yrs loving an addict, and in another relationship right after with him in rehab now and wanting to come back after 60 days rather than 90. I don’t want to put myself out there again because the pain of relapse would be unbearable. God bless you and your family.

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Tania H

I read these stories and wish I had done something about my life sooner. I have been married to a man with addiction for 16 years. It started with weed , then pain pills and finally Cocaine. I have been living in my fathers house for 16 years. My ex spouse made enough money to buy a house, he is intelligent and he was a good man but not to me and our children. He spent all his money as he made it to feed his addiction. I held on like it was my life’s mission. I thought that this was my test from God and I was so wrong. I left him 2 months ago because I started hating myself, I was enraged with myself for just letting him walk all over my boundaries. My self worth is close to none. I have to say that I have slept peacefully for these 2 months. I have cried and been a whole mess but I’m making it. I have 2 daughters and I kept feeling guilty. My brain has told me NO MORE. The sacrifices I have made didn’t benefit anyone. There was no reward, just the biggest life lesson. Drugs can take everything from you. I get a tiny bit stronger everyday and I take it as a win. If I could survive the 16 years of pure hell. I can survive living with my emotions and getting better. I’m far from feeling good but I’m doing it now. My advice to people still in that toxic environment, Run! You don’t get a shot at life twice! You cannot help anyone who doesn’t want to change. I did everything I possibly could and now I’m looking in the mirror and I don’t know what I’m looking at. I’m picking up my pieces. You will never be understood by an addict and they will be full of lies.

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Kim

Wow I am going through this now! Currently 7 months pregnant and decided to walk away from my significant other. His choice of drug age pills and I had enough! He nerve gets what I’m sayin and he has blamed my rage and invasiveness on me. I’ve tried everything and he blamed me at the end. His family isn’t a fan of me bc they see him suffering due to me and what he says to them. I never saw myself like this. But this helps to know that I am not alone and leaving will be painful for me and my little girl but we will be free from suffering

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Ben

My GF of 18 months who I love and she loves me left/moved out Last week, when she first discovered my gambling problem. I’ve broken her heart and my own.

I’ve admitted to her I have problem and I’ve checked myself into in house rehab program for 28 days next week, I’ve gone to a GA meeting every day in the mean time.

I’ve blocked every single account on line and downloaded gambling block on my phone.

I’ve no access cash cut up my bank cards only Apple Pay for any shopping from now on

I’ve made a list and repayment plan for money owed and will be death free by June

Ive removed all social media and online newspapers from my life to erode negativity

I’ve let my family know my issues who are not now talking to me now and my best mates who are supporting me

I’ve maintained contact with my ex who is supportive that I get the help I need but she also maintains we are done and she’s lucky she found out now before had kids

how or can you make her see it’s a illness I’ve admitted to and I am seeking professional help ? I want to quit and I understand I’ve broke her trust and I manipulated her with regards money but one thing we never had a row or issues up to Friday, it was true love. Shouldn’t love give you one chance to show you’ve leaned and can manage this illness? I’d like to think I’d do same if was other way around and i don’t say that selfishly

how can I persuade her I can recover and be trusted long term after my recovery

I’m not expecting it to happen overnight

I also am aware my recovery has to be based on myself and I want that but I’m struggling with the loss of my one true love

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Alison

I’ve been with my bf for four years. We were both unhappily married to others and left our respective marriages for each other. He was my perfect soulmate. Things were on the right track towards a new life together.

For a year after, I heard many many excuses as to why he would go MIA for days, why he slept ALL bloody day long and why he wasn’t taking care of himself. I had no clue and believed him. I supported him, fed him, housed him, took care of him, took his calls at all hours of the day even when I’m suppose to be with my son and yes gave him money.
Then he called me in a panic two months ago.
Confessed He was addicted to coke and in severe debt that he couldn’t pay his rent or get groceries. Got his drugs from escorts. I had NO clue. The signs were all there. I just believed him when he told me he “forgot” his phone somewhere or was exhausted because he didn’t sleep well. He would go on and lose his job, his child, not get approved for loans or government benefits. I told him I need space now as it’s severely affecting me in every way. How can you NOT be there for your loved one when they need you tho? How can I just wash my hands of this man I love very much?!

My heart and soul are broken. I still hold hope. I still love him but my soulmate as I know him is gone. After all that. Maybe he will come back. Maybe I’ll have to meet him in another lifetime.

All your stories helped and I resonate with all of them. Thank you for sharing your stories. I hope you all found peace and love.

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Rebecca

I don’t even know where to begin. I’ve lost two uncles from drug use & my family has a history of it. Luckily I was raised by my mother’s grandparents. Lost my mom/grandma almost nine years ago. I miss her everyday.. My real mom is their daughter & we’ve always talked & been somewhat close but she’s almost 70 now & still has a drug & alcohol problem. Yesterday she called me all messed up & I could tell. I don’t know how to deal with this. I haven’t ever had an issue with drugs or alcohol. I don’t know how to talk to her. I’m so angry with her. Please tell me what to do.. I love her but I can’t keep dealing with this… When she’s not high or drunk she’s a great person.. I don’t understand it she will go a month or so without drinking or doing drugs & than just falls off of the wagon & does drugs again. Her husband texted me & said your mom has been drinking again & I have evidence that she’s been smoking crack. I didn’t respond & still haven’t.. I don’t know what to do. I just know I can’t deal with it!! Is not talking to her the answer?? I don’t know. I have a great life with a great husband, two grown wonderful daughters & three grandkids. I haven’t ever felt the need to be a alcoholic or to do drugs. I don’t know if I should just focus on my own little family or what I should do.. I love her but I can’t talk to her when she’s all messed up. Any advice on how to deal with her would be great. Thank you.

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Ms R

This put a lot of warmth on my heart because I was previously involved with an addict actually for three years I saw the good in him when we first got together and at the end I saw the very ugly, I love this man so much and he would always tell me that he love me and that I’m going to be his future wife I don’t believe him. I got tired, enough was enough I walked away but before I walked away I sent him a long text message he read it and blocked me I accept that because I understand when your in that state of mind you can’t accept the real, deep in my heart I know that he love me but I do realize that he loves the drugs more than me and himself . I’ve tried to help him by bringing him to detox he walked out twice it was enough for me I can love him from a distance and keep him in my prayers every day and night and focus on God and myself because it hurt to love and focus on him. I’m hurting behind this because that was the man I wanted to marry and have his child 🥲 keep me in prayer while I keep you all in prayer.

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Effie M

Thank you for your article, it really helped me understand the life of an addict, my feelings and how to deal with one. I found my addict dead on Jan. 31, 2022. He was my boyfriend for almost two years. I suspect he overdosed, the toxicology report is not back yet. I had no clue that he was addicted or even used drugs until three weeks ago when his addiction started getting the best of him causing him to need drugs more consistently than he had been using, which made him clumsy with his usage. This man was snorting crushed pills, smoking crack, using meth and still looked good. I saw him everyday and had no clue. I think I missed the signs because I was unaware of the signs.

Looking back, I think the first sign for me (I didn’t know it was a sign) was him needing money when his payroll checks were $3,000 plus bi-weekly. I just thought his bills were still behind because of the bad accident he had in June of 2021. Then there was the runny nose, I thought it was sinuses. We both have allergies. On two occasions, he had a white powder in his nose hairs. I thought it was from the baby powder he used after he showered. It was not until, I noticed the excessive sleeping, the going in the bathroom running water for no reason and the need to take a shower after just taking one, my gut told me something was wrong so I started playing drug dog. I was devasted when I found a clear glass tube that was burnt on the end and some other drug paraphernalia in his house coat pocket. He died not knowing I had found out he was addicted to drugs.

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Misty B

My husband is a heroin addict and I am at my last straw. He’s currently going off on me because I won’t give him money for dope. I don’t know if I should give in or stick to my guns. He said he’s done with me Bc I’m greedy. I am not greedy I just don’t want my hard-earned money to go to drugs I hate.

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Msmaam

It’s not your responsibility to provide him with drugs and you are only making him hate you everytime you give in because then it becomes expected so when you show the slightest resistance anger will arise. He knows what he is doing but the drug is more important than his relationship with you. I lived that life for almost 20 years so I know the pain that it has caused and I know how hard walking away will be but if he truly loved you then he wouldn’t be putting you thru this and if you love yourself then you shouldn’t be putting up with that. He is toxic and nothing good can come from that. Cut all contact with him until he can provide something positive and valuable to your life. I know that Its easier said than done but you’ll wish you had done it sooner

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Sky

The man I love just admitted to me that he’s addicted to pain meds. As a chronic pain sufferer, this is a huge a problem and even though he’s gone cold turkey on the meds (not sure that’s the best option, but I can’t control him), I don’t see how he can stay off pain meds completely when he is suffering so much pain without them.

It was easy for him to hide it from me since we live far from each other. And he didn’t think it was a problem the last time we saw each other, even though he was hiding taking them from me.

He’s started attending NA meetings. I have hope he can control it, but I also worry a lot about how he’s going to endure the constant, severe pain without meds.

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Olivia S

Thank you for explaining that it’s important to understand the difference between helping and enabling. I just found out that my son has some problems with drugs and can’t support his own addiction anymore. I’ll be sure to think a lot about how to help him out without enabling his addiction to stick around.

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VT

I’ve been with my partner for 4 years.. he gave me the most perfect love when he was sober… he promised me time and time again that he would clean himself up – our dreams were more important than the drugs and alcohol… I realise now that it will take more than love for him to realise he needs help.
As much as I love him, I need to love myself more.

I have kept the sadness of the last four years inside me… I was too ashamed out what people would say… I didn’t want to be pitied. It killed me not having anyone to speak to.
Tonight I called my sister and told her. I told her everything… and we cried together.
Just having this chance to express myself tonight makes me feel so much stronger.. I know I’m not alone.

I know this road ahead is not going to be easy… I don’t think leaving him has completely hit me yet… I know I will be sad and there will be really sad days ahead of me… but I know that in the long run, my physical and mental health will thank me for it.

As much as I love this man, I need to stop enabling his behaviour.

Reply

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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